If there is one thing about talking to strangers, they can say the most revealing things. Why not? They don’t know you from Adam. Truths tossed out from strangers, they can be pretty strange.
In the Walmart lineup, I was buying some kale. The old woman at the cash said, “What is that stuff anyway?” And I replied, “Ma’am, if you eat a bit of that every day you will live to be a hundred years old.” She digested this tidbit, laughed and then came back with the unexpected. “Oh no, she said, I don’t want to live forever. I want to live and die in my own time, with my OWN people.”
Stuff like that, can make you think. It’s wisdom despensed at the cashier counter. Longevity is a big topic, one that has been taken on by the scientific community. How many of us have wondered as kids if scientists might actually come up with a cure for aging in our lifetime? If you had the power to live forever, would you? It’s been covered in movies like Tuck Everlasting, Twilight, and The Green Mile. Those characters discovered the dark side of longevity, when their loved ones died and they had to just keep on living.
It reminded me of a local story that showed up in the news a few years back. An elderly woman had wandered off from a seniors residence, and died on one of the coldest nights of the year. I thought this was the usual fare, senior suffering from alzheimers wanders off in the middle of the night in a bathrobe, and freezes to death. But on hearing the details, I realized this story was unusual.
The old lady was entirely lucid, and on a quest. When she died, she was getting her final wish. She wanted to go home. She didn’t want to end her days in the seniors residence, nice as it was. She thought back to all the main events of her life, and most of them were parked at a certain address, a mansion in Scarborough, where she had watched the deer run through the yard, watched her toddlers play, had picnics with friends in the garden, and raised a family. Lived out the fullest years of her life. And now developers were tearing it down, and the kids were cashing out.
The old lady dressed herself up, took a cab, and when neighbours wondered at her appearance at the home, she told them not to worry, she used to live there and wanted one last look. She went to the doorstep, sat down, and went home for the last time.
It’s a sad story in a way, but it also delivers a punch. At the end of our days, it’s not about the money, or the accomplishments or any of that stuff we can’t take with us. It’s about those important places and people who were our best company on the journey, bought and paid for with our own memories, laughter and tears.
What makes those memories special? It’s the familiarity. It’s the thing that makes the commonplace sublime. I recall a historical account of an elderly Indian man who was to be hanged. Per tradition, they asked him what his last meal request would be. The cook was ready to accomodate. This guy could have had a turkey dinner with champagne and all the fixings if he so desired. Instead, he asked for some boiled white fish and a cup of black tea, the stuff that his mother used to prepare with her own hands. He was familiar with it. It wasn’t the price tag, it was the memories that made that meal choice special. His jailers were agog at such a humble request, enough to write it down.
I on the other hand, was not surprised at all. You have a life, the one you were born into. The old lady at the Walmart cash was right. The most valuable life you have ever lived, is your own. To live and die in your own time with your own people, is a beautiful thing.